Deaf Game Review – The Long Dark

The Long Dark Deaf Accessibility
3.7 / 6 Reviewer
Pros
Subtitles for dialogue, Size options for subtitles
Cons
Game says it has closed captions but it doesn't, Game instructs players to use their ears and then doesn't consider deaf players in that instruction, No speaker labels
Visual Representation of Dialogue
Visual Representation of Sound
Visual Cues
Controller Vibration

The Long Dark was my first foray into survival games way back however many years ago the game entered early access and as bad as I was at it (my survival instincts are nonexistent apparently) I enjoyed my time in the early access sandbox mode and I had high hopes for the full release that features an episodic story mode.

I played the full release version for the first time today, eager to see what cool things the developers had added to the game and was nicely surprised to see better accessibility options than I was expecting.

Display options screen
Audio options screen

As you can see in the above images, the game allows you to toggle subtitles on or off, or you can choose to turn on closed captions. You can also select the language and adjust a few separate types of volume.

I started my game as a Green Survivor because I am bad at surviving and I can’t even pretend otherwise, and went into the game with high hopes thanks to the welcome accessibility options.

Unfortunately my hopes were a little too high and the game ended up being a pretty big letdown.

Snow covered area with illegible yellow subtitles.
Snowy scene with trees and a cliff in the background, showing more yellow illegible subtitles.
Inside cave, thirst icon showing at bottom of screen with subtitles half legible against cave background, half illegible against snow.

First, let’s discuss these subtitles. Yellow is never a good choice for text, first of all, and secondly, it’s far small to read easily.

Cutscene with female character showing dialogue subtitles with no speaker labels.

Same issue in the cinematic scenes. Too much text, too small, and if you’ve got a letterbox around the scene, for God’s sake, use it for the subtitles. And there’s no speaker tags.

Now for those “closed captions.” Unless the game still has bugs (I’m guessing not since it’s been out for a while) these are not captions. Captions include text describing environmental sounds and there is none of that here.

But let me show you where The Long Dark fails massively with its captions:

A text screen telling players about the importance of listening to crows.

This text reads “Your Ears Are Your Best Survival Tool” and then goes on to explain why your survival depends on listening for and watching for wildlife such as crows.

They didn’t caption the crows, so my “ears” are not helping me survive at all.

If you’re going to insist your players use their ears, you better be damn sure to make that possible for deaf and hoh players as well, otherwise it kind of feels like the game is mocking us and who wants to play a game that does that?

Dusk scene with trees and rocks in background, hunger and first aid icons showing.

The above image was right after the text that instructed me to use my ears. You can hear crows and they guide you to where you should go, but if you can’t hear them, you pretty much have to look up all the time to keep your eye on them and then you miss all the collectible things on the ground.

There are no environmental captions, no indication that it’s super windy outside and you’ll die should you venture out of your shelter, no indication that a predator animal is nearby if you can’t see it. Captioning the sounds the character makes does not make for closed captioning. It’s nothing more than an extension of the subtitles.

Despite its admirable efforts to appear accessible and the inclusion of (poorly executed) accessibility options, The Long Dark remains incredibly inaccessible and almost impossible for deaf and hoh players to play and enjoy.

Updated after 12/2018 game update with a story and accessibility overhaul:

Large dialogue subtitles still with no speaker labels during a cutscene.

New to the game is the ability to increase the text size of subtitles. As you can see, the text is plenty big, and they’ve also added a darkened background that fits all the text when you’ve not selected the large size.

What’s still missing? Speaker labels. The image above is a scene where the person on the other end of the phone is speaking, but deaf players have no way of knowing that. And it’s not the only phone related issue in the update…

Scene with character looking at bed, un-captioned phone ringing, subtitles asking "Who could that be?"

In this scene, you’ve just woken from a nap. Hearing players hear the phone ringing (even with the setting turned to closed captions there are still no environmental captions) and the dialogue makes sense.

Dark wall, small text indicating player should answer the phone on the side of screen.

When playing after the update and I came to this scene, my only thought was, “What phone?” and I spent the next few minutes searching for the phone I was supposed to answer in order to advance the story.

All in all, the text size options are great but still not nearly enough to make this game accessible to deaf and hoh players.